The Hidden Curriculum

Hidden Giants has worked in partnership with Dunning primary in Perth & Kinross since January 2015.  The residency has generated incredible conversations in the classrooms, the staff room and further afield.  It has provoked my thinking and refined my approach.    Through our work there are two key strands which I thought it would be worth sharing:

  1. The role of questions in the classroom
  2. Finding the hidden curriculum

Questions in the classroom

When I worked with the classes on Fridays I was amazed by the level of debate.  The pupils have an amazing ability to make connections which leads them to new thought patterns.  They seem to have a desire to explore and adventure so I’m interested in how we enable this.   The sessions I delivered were based on my philosophy of learning which guides my work, SAIL:

Situated:  rooted in the learners enquiry

Attentive:  possibility for learning in everything – it can’t always be known (intentive)

Immersive:  experiential, experimentation, evolving and involved


Without starting from a pre-planned lesson I am able to use questions to establish a creative space where pupil and agency guides the learning.  By paying attention to the pupil’s curiosity I attempt to situate learning in their enquiry.  I have tried to demonstrate how learning can be woven through the curriculum rather than the curriculum fragmenting learning.

As an educator how easy is it to ask your class a question you don’t know the answer to?  Do you avoid it or do you accept the need to work within the unknown?  How easy do you find it asking open ended questions to your class?  Do you adopt the role of coach/mentor/facilitator to help them expand their thinking?

When working with pupils I attempt to find the key question that allows them to see different avenues of thinking.  It should challenge and disrupt.  It’s not important I know the answer as it’s the richness that’s important.  My questions often start with:

Have you thought about . . . .

Can you tell me more about  . . .

What if  . . .

I wonder if  . . .

What else could  . . .

This is a recent example of what happens when you don’t question or stop pupils from forming their natural progression:

A teacher (in a different school) had taken a box (containing an unknown stimulus for learning) from a CPD session and carried it around for two days.  When she opened it with the class they discovered 3 paint brushes (for walls).  One of the pupils suggested they paint the walls which got everyone excited.  However the teacher simply said “no – we can’t paint the walls.”

This response closed the pupils thinking as the invitation for them to lead their learning had been taken away.  I suggested an alternative approach may have involved asking questions to help them better understand why they wanted to paint the walls:  did they not like the classroom, could they redesign it, where do designers get their inspiration, where does paint come from, who invented paint, how easy is it to make paint, etc etc .   These questions are not designed to lead the class in a particular direction but instead they respond to the class’ initial idea and allow them to build on it and develop it into a purposeful learning experience.

Little minds make the best connections.  One of the teachers at Dunning described her class like a Billy Connelly stand up – you don’t know where it’s going next but he has the ability of pulling it all together – it appears manic but makes total sense (rhizome).  This is all about finding the right questions that take the pupils into uncharted territory which they thrive and surprise us in.

The Hidden Curriculum

During my time at Dunning I’ve become interested in how we find the curriculum when we don’t plan for it – this often means back planning and reflective practise.  When I worked with the pupils the sessions were fast paced which allowed us to cover a lot of topics.  As I facilitated I made connections to the different curricular areas and spotted potential learning intentions.  This also happened during the box experiment when I spoke with the pupils.  They seemed completely immersed in their learning which allowed them to stray into a variety of areas.

I believe it is the role of the educator to pay attention to pupil’s curiosity and make connections to the curriculum.  This often means you can’t plan in advance and accept the curriculum can be almost anywhere.

In a recent experiment at Dunning I worked with a teacher and the boys in p4/5 as the girls were doing something else.  Due to a lack of space we had to work outside.  We agreed the boys would be given the instructions:  you have 1hr, you must stay outside, work as a group, and we must all learn something which you can show at the end. The teacher was great (she adopted the role of chief safety officer which allowed her to step in if needed but left everything else to the pupils).  They totally thrived.  After their raft building lesson at the local burn they walked back to the school proud of their achievement.  One then initiated a conversation with ‘if we did it again we could . .  .’  They were reflecting, refining and regulating.  The prototype allowed them to see what was missing.

The teacher said a great thing – ‘why don’t I spend my time planning respectively rather than forward?’  I believe she gets to the heart of it: why put pressure on yourself to get it right when the curriculum becomes exciting when handed over to the learners.  The skills the boys began to identify and develop could never be taught – they have to be discovered.

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